11.10.15 7:00 am from wired.com
its artificial intelligence engine—freely sharing one of its most important creations with the rest of the Internet— how the world of computer software is changing. These days, the big Internet giants frequently . Open source accelerates the progress of technology. , Google can feed all sorts of machine-learning research outside the company, and in many ways, this research will feed back into Google.
But Google’s AI engine also reflects how the world of computer and and , TensorFlow depends on, or graphics processing units, chips that were originally designed to render graphics for games and the like, but have also proven adept at other tasks. And it depends on these chips more than the larger tech universe realizes. is changing. Inside Google, when tackling tasks like
According to , Google uses GPUs not only in training its artificial intelligence services, but also in these services—in delivering them to the smartphones held in the hands of consumers.
That represents a significant shift. Today, inside its massive computer data centers, Facebook uses GPUs to train its face recognition services, but when delivering these services to Facebookers—actually identifying faces on its social networks—it uses traditional computer processors, or CPUs. And this basic setup is the industry norm, as Facebook CTO recently pointed out during a briefing with reporters at the company’s Menlo Park, California headquarters. But as Google seeks an ever greater level of efficiency, there are cases where the company both trains its AI models on GPUs inside the data center. And it’s not the only one moving in this direction. Chinese search giant Baidu is building a new AI system that works in much the same way. “This is quite a big paradigm change,” says Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng.
The change is good news for , the chip giant that specialized in GPUs. And it points to a gaping hole in the products offered by Intel, the world’s largest chip maker. Intel doesn’t build GPUs. , however, are now exploring FPGAs, or field-programmable gate arrays, as a replacement for GPUs in the AI arena, and .
The bottom line is that AI is playing an increasingly important role in the world’s online services—and alternative chip architectures are playing an increasingly important role in AI. Today, this is true inside the computer data centers that drive our online services, and in the years to come, the same phenomenon may trickle down to the mobile devices where we actually use these services.
Deep Learning in Action
At places like Google, , , and , GPUs have proven remarkably important to so-called “deep learning” because they can process lots of little bits of data in parallel. relies on neural networks—systems that approximate the web of neurons in the human brain—and these networks are designed to analyze massive amounts of data at speed. In order to teach these networks how to recognize a cat, for instance, you feed them countless photos of cats. GPUs are good at this kind of thing. Plus, they don’t consume as much power as CPUs.
But, typically, when these companies put deep learning into action—when they offer a smartphone app that recognizes cats, say—this app is driven by a data center system that runs on CPUs. According to Bryan Catanzaro, who oversees high-performance computing systems in the AI group at Baidu, that’s because GPUs are only efficient if you’re constantly feeding them data, and the data center server software that typically drives smartphone apps doesn’t feed data to chips in this way. Typically, as requests arrive from smartphone apps, servers deal with them one at a time. As Catanzaro explains, if you use GPUs to separately process each request as it comes into the data center, “it’s hard to get enough work into the GPU to keep it running efficiently. The GPU never really gets going.”
MORE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
That said, if you can consistently feed data into your GPUs during this execution stage, they can provide even greater efficiency than CPUs. Baidu is working towards this with its new AI platform. Basically, as requests stream into the data center, it packages multiple requests into a larger whole that can then be fed into the GPU. “We assemble these requests so that, instead of asking the processor to do one request at a time, we have it do multiple requests at a time,” Catanzaro says. “This basically keeps the GPU busier.”
It’s unclear how Google approaches this issue. But the company says there are already cases where TensorFlow runs on GPUs during the execution stage. “We sometimes use GPUs for both training and recognition, depending on the problem,” confirms company spokesperson Jason Freidenfelds.
That may seem like a small thing. But it’s actually a big deal. The systems that drive these AI applications span tens, hundreds, even thousands of machines. And these systems are playing an increasingly large role in our everyday lives. Google now uses deep learning not only to identify photos, recognize spoken words, and translate from one language to another, but also to boost search results. And other companies are pushing the same technology into ad targeting, computer security, and even applications that understand natural language. In other words, companies like Google and Baidu are gonna need an awful lot of GPUs.
At the same time, TensorFlow is also pushing some of this AI out of the data center entirely and onto the smartphones themselves.
Typically, when you use a deep learning app on your phone, it can’t run without sending information back to the data center. All the AI happens there. When you bark a command into your Android phone, for instance, it must send your command to a Google data center, where it can processed on one of those enormous networks of CPUs or GPUs.
But Google has also honed its AI engine so that it, in some cases, it can execute on the phone itself. “You can take a model description and run it on a mobile phone,” Dean says, “and you don’t have to make any real changes to the model description or any of the code.”
This is how the company built its Google Translate app. Google trains the app to recognize words and translate them into another language inside its data centers, but once it’s trained, the app can run on its own—without an Internet connection. You can point your phone a French road sign, and it will instantly translate it into English.
That’s hard to do. After all, a phone offers limited amounts of processing power. But as time goes on, more and more of these tasks will move onto the phone itself. Deep learning software will improve, and mobile hardware will improve as well. “The future of deep learning is on small, mobile, edge devices,” says Chris Nicholson, the founder of a .
GPUs, for instance, are already starting to find their way onto phones, and hardware makers are always pushing to improve the speed and efficiency of CPUs. Meanwhile, , and according to those who have used it, it’s well suited to mobile devices.
Today, Google’s AI engine runs on server CPUs and GPUs as well as chips commonly found in smartphones. But according to Google engineer Rajat Monga, the company built TensorFlow in a way that engineers can readily port it to other hardware platforms. Now that the tool is open source, outsiders can begin to do so, too. As Dean describes TensorFlow: “It should be portable to a wide variety of extra hardware.”So, yes, the world of hardware is changing—almost as quickly as the world of software===================================================
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